Some French Quarter businesses are moving closer to paying a fee to guarantee more police on Bourbon Street. It comes as a City Council member is asking the NOPD to do more community policing in the area.
"First of all, everybody is concerned about certain issues, particularly crime in the area," said District C City Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, whose district includes the French Quarter.
The latest Bourbon Street shooting that was captured by surveillance cameras was the last straw for many who live and work in the Quarter. A coalition of businesses wants to contribute more that $200 each, per week, to pay off-duty New Orleans police officers to patrol Bourbon Street, mainly on foot.
"On Bourbon Street in particular we would like to see officers visible on the street. We've really learned that having visible police on the street is a good thing," said Robert Watters, chairman of the French Quarter Management District which is a quasi-state commission.
After much discussion, members of the FQMD voted to present a draft cooperative endeavor agreement to Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration and the U.S. Justice Department, which is overseeing the NOPD because of a consent decree.
Bob Simms chairs of the FQMD's security task force.
"What we've got to get right is that the officers are going to do what we expect them to do, what we're paying them to do and, we can be assured that the people making donations are indeed getting the service that they requested," said Simms after the vote.
Ramsey said she will speak to interim NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison about the need for more community policing.
"We need our officers walking the beat," she said.
Because of crime problems in the French Quarter and an overall shortage of police officers in the city, Mayor Landrieu recently floated the idea of creating "NOLA Patrol," a 50-person unarmed civilian group that would take some of the pressure off of officers now assigned to the Eighth Police District that includes the French Quarter.
"I believe it's a first step. Having them be able to handle minor things and to give some support to our police force is going to be good. Is it the long term solution? No. We're still going to have to get up to a fully staffed force," said Ramsey.
She said she will insist on specific training for the patrol members if the squad is approved by the City Council.
"We're going to have to clearly outline what their duties and responsibilities are, who are they going to report to. What kind of interactions we expect if they're not carrying weapons. Do you expect them to pursue in a chase?" said Ramsey.
But businesses willing to write checks to put more armed NOPD officers on the streets of the Quarter are not waiting to take steps to feel safer.
"If the stars align, then we hope that within a month we'll be able to get these people on the ground," said Watters.
He said the Bourbon Street paid patrols would just be the first phase. Other planned phases would include residential areas of the quarter as well as other commercial corridors. If the city, DOJ and the FQMD reach consensus on the cooperative endeavor agreement, the agreement will then be brought back to the FQMD for final approval.